Thursday, January 27, 2005

Jnl of Contemporary History Vol 40, 1 (Jan 2005)

A quick look through the latest Journal of Contemporary History (Vol 40, 1) reveals some items of interest.

I'm a big fan of Dwight Macdonald, despite his shift to the right in political terms in the 1950s, so interested to come across an article by David Costello called 'My Kind of Guy': George Orwell and Dwight Macdonald, 1941-49', looking at their intellectual relationship and connections via their correspondence. Macdonald as (at the time) an 'anti-Stalinist Marxist' was a clear opponent of what he considered to be an imperialist war, revolution was necessary if the war was to be won or if the evolution of the US into totalitarianism was to be halted; while, of course, Orwell saw himself as a 'revolutionary realist' who argued for a reconstruction of British society as a means of wining the war, but still did what he could to help win that war. Orwell contributed a series of 'London Letters' to Partisan Review at Macdonald's intervention. Macdonald was pretty isolated in his views (despite some collaboration with the noted art critic Clement Greenberg) and that led to his departure from Partisan Review and the setting up of Politics, with Orwell trying to be as diplomatic as possible to both sides. Things were a bit frosty between the two authors until Macdonald's enthusiastic response to Animal Farm in 1945. Macdonald drifted away from Trotskyism towards a 'lesser-evilism' against the USSR by the late 1940s - you can trace his political shifts in the course of entries in his collection Memoirs of a Revolutionist. Hmm, lessons for some contemporary writers in Dwight Macdonald's political drift.

In a Review Article on 'Beyond the Postmodern Moment?' Patrick Finney deals with eleven recent(ish) volumes about contemporary historiographical debate covering a broad range of approach. Richard Evans and the legacy of E.H.Carr remain central and the question of whether postmodernism triumphed or is in retreat is crucial, there is one out-and-out Marxist work under consideration. This is Marxism and History by Matt Perry (Palgrave 2002). I wasn't impressed by this book myself, especially in its negligible treatment of the contribution of Second International Marxists to history-writing. The author of this review finds his defence of the 'unity of theory and practice' and 'authentic Marxism' against 'Stalinist perversions, reductionist vulgarizations and antagonistic characterizations' and 'conviction that Marxism offers all the right answers' enas that he fails to deal with criticism adequately and rebuts a postmodernism that is as misrepresented as he claims Marxism has been. Finney also thinks that the protestations of the health of Marxism are undermined by the 'parlous state of actually existing Marxist historiography' even in the contexts of a growing radical movement. Hmmm, I would say that the recent series of Isaac and Tamara Deutscher prizes to Marxist historical work is some form of testament to the continued potentiality of Marxism in history.

There's also a review article of even more books in 'The State of British Political History' by John Brown. This includes James Eaden and Dave Renton's Communist Party of Great Britain since 1920 (Palgrave 2002) and Matthew Worley's very different Class against Class, The Communist Party in Britain Between the Wars (Tauris 2002). Both of these, but especially Worley have been controversial. Sadly and annoyingly the reviewer only manages to say that they show how marginal the CPGB was! There are some other interesting books: John Garrard on Democratisation in Britain, Elites, Civil Society and Reform since 1800 (Palgrave 2002) presents a story entirely in terms of elite negotiation; whereas Adam Lent on British Social Movements since 1945 (Palgrave 2001) does look at women and gender, sexuality, race and peace as organising areas, but the reviewer points out the omission of the anti-poll tax movement and prefers a 'pressure group' framework to that of social movements.

Other material includes an article on 'Kicking out the Vietminh' by David Springhall looking at the British role in bringing the French back into Vietnam in the wake of the Japanese defeat.


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